By Jim Shadduck
Copyright ©1972 Larry M. Byrd/Way Out West Tent
At long last, a definitive piece on the one man who, as much as Stan and Babe, set the mood and pace of almost all their sound films--T. Marvin Hatley. Mr. Hatley, a genial, outgoing man whose constant beaming smile and friendly manner has graced not only our meetings, but the gala banquet held last June (see page 12 for banquet and contemporary photo of him). We're proud to present to you, Mr. Hatley. . .
Mr. Hatley was born April 3, 1905, of illiterate, pioneer, Scotch-lrish parents, in a dug-out on a farm in Reed, Oklahoma (population 100). It is believed that as early as seven months he pestered his grandmother to play the zither. We find his precocious musical inclinations again at about two-and-half years old when he got lost in a cotton patch with his little white dog and harmonica, wisely using the time experimenting with the harmonic changes the instrument provided. His parents were natural hillbilly musicians playing hoe downs, jigs, and country music--his mother the violin, his father the guitar.
When he was five, Santa Claus brought him a little snare drum which he played with the family orchestra at country dances. At nine years, while living with his grandparents, in Mangum, Oklahoma where he attended grammar school, he became a professional vaudeville drummer. One morning he walked into an old silent movie and vaudeville theater and saw his first big set of drums which he just had to try. The janitor who was cleaning the theater at the time immediately scolded him, but the manager, who was so impressed by how well Marvin kept time, came in and hired him on the spot--there were no unions in those days. He played there accompanying the silent films and vaudeville shows until he was thirteen.
About this time his father gave him a gold ring which he promptly traded for a cornet which he still has. He then taught himself to play both the cornet and piano. In the summer, the negro minstrels would parade around the town square--four jazzy sliding trombones in front and pounding drums in the rear, with screaming brass trumpets and harmonies echoing from every brick building. It was then that he fell in love with jazz music.
The following year he organized a 25-piece boys band in which he played cornet and acted as leader, touring Texas for the Elks Club. The next summer was spent in Burkburnet, Texas, a lively oil town, playing in a vaudeville orchestra. A short time later, his father courageously took the family to Inglewood, California, in a Model T Ford. At Inglewood High School he became even more active in music, composing several school songs which are still sung there today, arranging for the band, learning orchestration, and conducting the symphony orchestra in which he played several instruments. It was then also that he began his one-man band, with a set of drums under his feet, cymbals, hot Dixieland cornet with his right hand, swing base piano with his left hand. He played for a lot of local school dances.
After graduation, he attended UCLA as a pre-medical student, taking elective courses in harmony and counterpoint. In mid-term of his fourth year, he was called as a substitute pianist at Warner Brothers Radio Station and was hired to play for a week but ended up staying for two years. Between radio station jobs, he toured the West Coast with a vaudeville act in which he played 25 musical instruments. One thing lead to another and he never finished at UCLA. He was soon hired for another radio station job inside the Hal Roach Motion Picture Studios in Culver City. About this time sound came on film and, being in the right place at the right time with the appropriate talent, Marvin was appointed musical director, founding the music department. He started with a three-piece ensemble which eventually grew to 65 musicians, practically a full symphony orchestra as far as the studio recordings are concerned.
While musical director at the Roach Studios, Mr. Hatley studied conducting with Arthur Kay, a former assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony and musical director of Fox Studios. Mr. Kay taught him the German masters, such as Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart. Marvin also studied under Dr. Albert Coates, conductor of the London Symphony, a most masterful conductor and one of the most genial personalities he ever met. Dr. Coates taught him the Russian school - Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky Korsakov, Mussorgsky.
Mr. Hatley was kept very busy at the Roach Studios scoring most of the films, including all the background music. He wrote over 800 compositions for the films, mostly two-reelers and occasionally features such as Pick a Star with Jack Haley, Swiss Miss with Laurel and Hardy, Zenobia with Hardy and Langdon, Topper with Cary Grant and Constance Bennet, Captain Fury with Brian Aherne and Victor McLaglen, and Merrily We Live with Patsy Kelly, Billie Burke.
He scored all of the Our Gang, all of the Charlie Chase, and most of the Laurel and Hardy comedies. "I suppose I composed about 200 songs all in all to fit the various actors on the Roach Lot." He had a lot of fun playing with Our Gang kinds, their dogs, monkeys and various pets. "And, of course, it was fun writing songs according to the script for them."
Mr. Hatley feels that his best scores for Laurel and Hardy films can be found in The Music Box, in which he played the player piano part, Sons of the Desert, containing his song "Honolulu Baby," Way Out West, containing his song "Won't You Be My Lovey Dovey?" A Chump at Oxford, and Saps at Sea.
Mr. Hatley originally composed it for an hourly theme for the radio station inside the Roach Studios. "I got the idea from the common coo-coo bellows. I combined a simple silly tune on top and the coo-coo below. The clash of the major second intervals is what makes it funny." He was clowning around in the radio room one day playing the goofy combination. At this time Stan was making silent films there. He came up to the radio station one morning and said that he really liked that little tune and would like to use it in his pictures. It was used on the very first Laurel and Hardy sound film and became the popular Laurel and Hardy theme.
"It was Stan's idea, then, to use the coo-coo song-he felt that it just fit his personality, that's the reason he liked it." The top bugle-call-like theme represents Hardy, very domineering and the constant coo-coo part in the base represents little Stan Laurel, just a little off. They are dissonant together, always arguing. "Stan Laurel knows what he wants. It just seemed to fit what he wanted to do his job. He has got the fine sense of picking out things he needs."
"Stan Laurel usually wanted 100% music-he was mainly the boss on his pictures. Because Stan Laurel does a lot of pantomime, he wants some music going on 'cause he feels the scene would be dead without music to push it along" He liked lively music.
Stan and his life-long English friend, Charley Rodgers, were the idea men in the Laurel and Hardy comedies. Stan would write most of the ideas and Fat Hardy would do what they told him. Hardy was rather independent compared to Stan--he wasn't as sociable as Stan but he always cooperated with what Stan wanted.
Although Mr. Hatley occasionally watched them filming to get some ideas ahead of time, his job usually didn't begin until the filming was completed. After the picture is finished, the director and musical director meet to discuss where the music will be placed. Marvin worked closely with Stan - Stan was there to tell us what his ideas were."
Then Marvin got a print of the film which he cut up and spliced, running it through the movieola and marking it with crayon to fit in the cues. He then sat down to the actual task of the composition, writing ideas as they came to him or picking them out on the piano.
"The orchestral colors would come to you about the same time you are making the music-many a times-most of the time, as a matter of fact. The colors themselves have a lot to do with the mood and the instruments themselves are very important." He would usually take his work home with him. In the back of his home, he had a studio with all kinds of reference, phonograph records, and scores. He would do most of his work at home, working all night long when it was quiet and one could think better " Sometimes I wouldn't go to bed for three weeks"
When the composition was finished, he wrote out the master sheet from which someone copied all the parts. During rehearsal on the set, everyone got their parts down. "We would rehearse and then we'd take it while it was hot." The music was put together in little parts for each section two, three, five, at the most ten minutes at a time.
The projectionist ran the film on a screen which only the conductor could see. Marvin then began to synchronize the film and music by means of crosses previously placed on the film evenly distributed to fit the scene or by using headphones to hear clicks punched in the sound part of the film. After sufficient rehearsals, he discarded the full orchestral score and used a thin one-line melody with crosses marked on the score. The conductor really had his hands full just keeping up with the crosses and making the orchestra come out in time to fit the scene.
It usually took about two weeks to compose the music and put it together and about two days to record it. After the music was recorded for the finished picture, the sound department mixed the music under the dialogue with the proper softness so that the dialogue would stand out. Stan then viewed it and never had a complaint--nothing had to be done over. "He was always happy with everything I did "
What was it like working with Laurel and Hardy? "Well, it was a great pleasure. Stan Laurel had a wonderful, sweet personality. He was very humble and he was always ready for a laugh. And Fat Hardy was more reticent, that is, he didn't mix in as much as Stan Laurel did." The Hatleys lived in Inglewood while Marvin worked at Roach and they would have Laurel and Hardy over for spaghetti dinner. "You'd be surprised how they eat." Fat Hardy just nibbled at a little plate of spaghetti while Stan ate three or four big plates of it. "Most astounding thing I've ever seen. And then he (Stan) went out and jumped in the swimming pool and almost cracked his head open. I don't know why he did that-really some character."
Mr. Hatley's score for Way Out West was nominated for an Academy Award. "I thought that was a delightful picture. I enjoyed it because it was such a funny picture and it lent itself to such unusual orchestration." He especially likes the first scene where they are coming down the road with their donkey. "I like the idiotic music that matches Stan Laurel when he walks, that gawky walk he's got-it's in 6/8 time." In this sequence he used a lot of sickly, whiny oboe music to accompany the awkwardness. "I used the coo-coo in thousands of variations in Laurel and Hardy, back wards and forwards, sideways, slow and fast in all kinds of ways."
Marvin worked for Hal Roach for about 12 years until 1942. When the war started Roach closed down and was making only training films for the army. Then, after the war, Marvin took various jobs as a cocktail pianist and stayed in the business for about 15 years. Since then he has worked on his house, being the ''comprehensive designer" designing all the furniture, sculpture, oil paintings, mosaics, and landscaping. "It's been a full time job. "
Now in his sixties and retired, Marvin is very much alive to his environment very active mentally and physically. His main hobby is organic gardening--citrus, grapes, figs, peaches, plumbs, apricots, and vegetables. He walks four miles a day. "I read every book and magazine I can get my hands on."
Mr. Hatley has become somewhat of a philosopher. "As you grow older, you automatically become a philosopher whether you want to or not. You get beat up going down the road of life, it makes you think a little bit. It's a great and mysterious world, I'll tell you. Nobody knows it all. Nobody knows it all."
Following the printing of this article in 1972, Marvin continued to attend Way Out West meeting on a regular basis. But he was not one to sit around and soak in his celebrity status; he was always in the front of the room, at the piano, accompanying the silent films and filling any silent moments during meetings. We were honored to be one of the only tents to feature the original L&H music played by the composer himself! During the 1982 convention in Detroit, an entire evening banquet was dedicated in honor of Mr. Hatley.
Marvin continued to drive himself to our meetings in his little yellow pickup truck, well into the 1980s. He passed away on August 23, 1986. We have chosen to reprint this article, simply because Marvin meant so much to every one of us who knew him.